WA clarifies looming Cultural Heritage Act

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29th June 2023

By: Esmarie Iannucci

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Australasia


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PERTH ( – The resources sector has welcomed clarification from the Western Australian government regarding the implementation of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage (ACH) Act.

The state government said on Thursday that the system which protects and manages Aboriginal cultural heritage in Western Australia will be modernised and improved from July 1 to prevent another incident like what occurred at Juukan Gorge.

The improvements include new practical exemptions and a simpler, fairer system to manage activities that may harm Aboriginal cultural heritage across Western Australia.

The ACH Act empowers Aboriginal people to make agreements about matters affecting their cultural heritage. For more than 50 years it has been illegal to undertake activities that may harm Aboriginal cultural heritage without approval, and that legal framework has now been modernised to align with Native Title laws.

The implementation group, chaired by the director-general of the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, will be established for an initial six months to work collaboratively to address any issues that may arise in the initial stages of implementing the new Act. 

Members of the group will include representatives from key industries such as mining, property, farming and agriculture, as well as local government, Aboriginal corporations and the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council. 

The group's work will also feed into the 12-month review the state government has committed to conduct as part of the implementation process.

While land users and industry sectors adjust to the new system, the state government will adopt a responsible, reasonable and education-first approach for the first 12 months in regard to compliance with the new Act, similar to the approach being taken for implementation of Western Australia's new work health and safety laws.

“Aboriginal cultural heritage is of immense cultural, scientific, educational and historic interest and provides Aboriginal people with an important link to their present and past culture.

“I want to make it clear that for more than 50 years it has been unlawful to harm Aboriginal cultural heritage in Western Australia. This will not change under the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act,” said Premier Roger Cook.

“The current legislation is outdated and it wasn't good for Aboriginal people or land users. It led to incidents like Juukan Gorge, which was a global embarrassment for Australia. 

“We have consulted extensively with Aboriginal people and industry to find a balance that allows Aboriginal people to speak for their country and ensures that many activities continue with minimal disruption or additional burden.”

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) said on Thursday that it was looking forward to participating in the implementation group to ensure that any outstanding issues were addressed as the industry moved through the transition phase of the new framework.

CME CEO Rebecca Tomkinson said it was pleasing to see the government would be taking the advocated for 'education-first' approach to compliance over coming months, giving all stakeholders the opportunity to fully interpret the new laws without risk of unintentionally being in breach of the Act.

“We know that all stakeholders are keen to make this new system of heritage protection work, and this is a practical approach to achieving that,” she said.

“The implementation group will have a range of issues to work through and CME will continue to work with government and other industry groups to iron out any complexities present across the broader framework.

“The Western Australian mining and resources sector has supported the modernisation of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, building on our sector’s ongoing commitment to working with Traditional Owners and Custodians on the protection and management of cultural heritage through agreement making.

“By maintaining an open and inclusive dialogue, we can achieve a balanced approach that safeguards heritage values and supports Western Australia's economic growth and prosperity.”

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (Amec) has also welcomed the new measures under the ACH Act, with CEO Warren Pearce saying the measures announced on Thursday would smooth the transition to the new cultural heritage requirements and enable challenges to be addressed as they arise.

“Western Australia’s existing cultural heritage legislation was simply not good enough and had to change.

“And while the new framework may be imperfect, the new process can be made to work through the good faith efforts of Traditional Owners, industry and government.”

“The 12-month review of the regulations, previously committed to by government, will also ensure that there is a reasonable period to review the effectiveness of the new framework, and make adjustments where they are needed,” said Pearce.

“Industry has strongly advocated for an education-first approach to the new legislation, to enable industry and community members to come up to speed and to adopt to the new requirements.”

Pearce has also welcomed the July 1 starting date, saying further delay in the implementation of the Act would only have created greater delays for member companies and placed further demands on an already-under-pressure system.

“The sooner we get the new framework established and operational, the sooner we will be able to work toward achieving better and more efficient outcomes, which is in all of our interests,” he said.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter


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